People love this cartoon. I love this cartoon. It’s a great reminder that consumers don’t appreciate being talked to as if they’re walking, talking moneybags. Instead, they gravitate toward brands that are honest and real—brands that try to connect with them on a more personal level (sometimes, anyway).
Recently, market trends have supported this idea, pushing brands to be more personable and transparent. Have a personality, the experts say. Be authentic. Make relationships with your customers. As a result, consumers are seeing some pretty cool brand communications, as well as some that, quite frankly, fall a little flat.
Let’s take two (semi) recent events that required advertisers to respond quickly on social media and decide just how authentic they were.
First, the 2013 Super Bowl. Oreo’s “Dunk in the Dark” tweet was not only a relevant message coming from that brand, but a true expression of their quirky personality. I’d say it was received quite well—the brand got more than 15,000 retweets within 24 hours. And then there’s the Buffalo Wild Wings tweet, which absolutely earned high praise, as sports make up the very core of the brand.
Some brands didn’t get quite as much love. Jim Beam forced a connection to the power outage, and cars.com simply used the excuse to put the spotlight back on their commercial. Not exactly authentic; not exactly likeable.
Now let’s look at an entirely different kind of event: the recent Boston Marathon bombing. In the midst of news updates, opinions from friends, and updates from family members, I found myself reading brands’ expressions of grief on social media. And I wondered, is it okay for brands to play a role here? The Super Bowl has brands all over it, but a national tragedy? Definitely a grey area.
Brands like Southwest Airlines shared pertinent information that helped those affected maneuver the days that followed, and brands with no relevant ties simply stated “our hearts go out to Boston.” And then there were some brands, who just couldn’t help but shamelessly promote themselves.
So back to my question: Is it fair for brands to insert themselves in situations like these? Are they being authentic and real? Do people want to punch them in the face?
Like most things, I believe it’s best done in moderation, so I’ll paraphrase a great Disney learning: If you don’t have anything relevant to say, don’t say anything at all.
During the recent NHL lockout, the common theme amongst pundits was the league had alienated the fans (yet again) to the point that it could trigger an inescapable downward spiral to oblivion. Curling will take over as Canada’s national sport. USA market teams will crash and burn. Contraction! The end of hockey as we know it!
That talk all stopped when the first post-lockout game on NBC delivered the best regular-season rating in a decade. It wasn’t a fluke either. According to Nielsen, ratings are up 76% for 21 US franchises on various regional broadcasts. Fox is killing it more, posting ratings boosts of up to 108%. Nationally, viewership on the NBC Sports Network is up 36% vs. last year. This bonanza comes a year after the shortened NBA lockout season posted similar ratings jumps over previous years.
What all this means is very simple: Sports is everything proof.
Regardless of the issue- player scandals, slow economy, lockouts or pestilence- sports leagues are continuing to thrive. The reach of sports brands into society is so broad and touches so deep personally, it engages people in rare ways. Sports have the power to unite and divide on the scale of politics and religion. It’s not a passing trend or the next new thing. It was, is and will be an important and visible part of life.
That connectivity is where the true power lies in sports marketing. Building that bridge of transitive goodwill from brand to team to consumer via multiple mechanisms creates a long-term equity that is worth the investment. I’ve seen this personally with Buffalo Wild Wings. This past season we ran a sweepstakes for the Big Ten Football Championship (inclusive flight, hotel & tickets). The winner wanted to reach out personally to BWW to thank them for making it possible for them to go to the game. The resulting goodwill from that one interaction has now rooted a positive correlation and the long-term ability to influence behavior.
The key to remember as advertisers, though, is you need to be as invested as the fans. Sports marketing is all about harnessing passion. So, one-offs and jumping on bandwagons will not get you there. There are times when a team performances dip and certain indicators wane. But, brands shouldn’t question their commitments (maybe how much they are paying for a partnership, but that’s another issue). Whenever those questions pop up, my answer is always that regardless of ups and downs, brands should be looking for opportunities to engage fans through sports sponsorship and continue to build that equity. It is what leads you to that commonality with fans and paves the way for brand advocacy. Only then are you really tapping into the full potential of sports.
In the spirit of competition, we started our conversation disagreeing on whether Super Bowl ads should be shown before the big game. But after considering some key takeaways from the past few years, in context with today’s media landscape, we can both agree that not taking the opportunity to build consumer engagement leading up to the game would be a big mistake.
There is no audience as large or as “tuned in” as Super Bowl viewers. Audiences have grown +25% from 2002 to 2011.
In an era of skyrocketing costs and risk-taking, brands are tasked with the dilemma of whether or not pre-seeding a Super Bowl spot is worthwhile in calculating the overall success of the investment.
Super Bowl Surprise:
Back in the day, it was the big reveal. Commercials were first shown during the Super Bowl and the measure of success was TV ratings. Interestingly enough, Monday morning talk was about the commercials; we just didn’t realize this was social. There was no internet, and conversations did not go “viral” in the same way they do today. Those first memorable spots for me are still talked about today: Coke and “Mean” Joe Greene or Pepsi and Cindy Crawford.
Super Bowl Spoiler:
But today, key performance indicators reach far beyond TV ratings and unmeasured “water cooler” talk for brands. Video views, social engagement and many other factors now fuse together to create a “check-list” for Super Bowl success. With the proliferation of technology in the past decade, users are now given tools to seek out content they want to receive on demand, rather than sitting down through game breaks to ensure they won’t miss everyone’s favorite commercial. And let’s face it, are you really going to get up during the game to refill your drink and snack plate?
It used to be that Super Bowl commercials were like the “secret ingredient,” safeguarded until the big game. Now, brands are realizing that showcasing teasers or even entire spots before the game doesn’t detract, but actually provides a forum for engaged consumers. Whether the teasers/spots or conversation occur on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, brands are now afforded an additional layer of consumption to benchmark themselves for success.
And the numbers show a compelling argument that there’s an advantage to gain by pre-launching your Super Bowl campaign. In 2011, Volkswagen broke through with their “The Force” spot, debuting it on YouTube before the game. In 2012, 34 of 54 national advertisers previewed their spots or teasers before the Super Bowl. In that same year, YouTube pre-game videos of advertisers who chose to showcase their content before the game averaged 9.1MM views each, as compared with 1.3MM for those who waited until the Sunday launch. And in 2013, all advertisers were doing pre-game support. In addition, content aggregators YouTube and Adweek have partnered to provide a comprehensive Super Bowl hub for commercials before the game even happens.
At the end of the day, content remains king when word-of-mouth and social sharing are your benchmark for success. However, a spot still needs creative quality and brand relevance to inspire engagement and increase positive ROI.
Not everyone can be a winner under the new conditions. Pre-launching a spot that does not receive any traffic can spell doom for the brand. After pre-launching their spot earlier in the week, Century 21’s “Wedding” commercial had garnered only 35,000 views on their dedicated YouTube channel. In juxtaposition, the Kate Upton Mercedes commercial generated over 6 million views even before the spot was showcased in the game.
Perhaps the most compelling argument in response to this inquiry is the fact that the user still owns the right to choose. Isn’t the breadth of media options all about choice? Whether you are a proponent of the “Super Bowl Surprise” or the “Super Bowl Spoiler,” each can have its way. Users can choose to engage with a brand prior to the Super Bowl, or wait for the “big reveal” on game day.
In the end, we both agreed that Super Bowl experiences would always be different for everyone. Leveraging the hugeness of the game, the conversations and coverage that happen before, during and after the event are beneficial to brands that fully take advantage of the opportunities that exist.
The NBA has been embraced as one of the top professional sports leagues using social media in recent years. With official National Basketball Association league and player pages accumulating over 277 million likes and followers on Facebook and Twitter combined, the NBA decided to celebrate the involvement of players and teams using social media with its first-ever NBA Social Media Awards.
The NBA is not the only sports league to embrace social media. Major League baseball also has a strong presence. Last year they hosted the first ever #BravesBash to let fans interact with they favorite players, let Stephen Colbert take over the @MLB twitter handle, and allowed tweeting on the field at the Home Run Derby. This year they plan to increase engagement by setting up Pinterest and Tumblr accounts for all 30 teams and by allowing players to tweet on the field at the upcoming All Star Game.
With so many leagues and players already taking advantage of social media it’s no surprise that Twitter recently announced a partnership with ESPN to allow fans and advertisers a unique, interactive way to integrate broadcast TV with online social conversations around major sports events.
What do you think is coming next for sports and social media?
Renault Netherlands recently launched a Facebook campaign focused around the story of Hilda and her Renault 4. The concept of the story was that Hilda had loved her Renault 4 but she was now too old to drive and her car was left sitting in the garage. Hilda wanted to give the car away to someone who could also enjoy driving it. Facebook users were asked to visit the Facebook app to play virtual ‘hide and seek’ around an interactive house placing a tag where they thought the missing car key was. The person who placed a tag closest to the missing key would win the car.
The reason many companies do well in social media is that they use social interactions to share their culture and people. As brands’ social media presences become more sophisticated, more brands are taking advantage of platforms like Pinterest and Instagram to tell their story visually and create a more meaningful connection with fans.
What’s the best example of storytelling you’ve seen on a social network?
The largest sports network in the world made its upfront presentation to media buyers this month. Days after rumors surfaced that FOX may launch a national cable sports network in the near future, ESPN unveiled a slew of fresh opportunities for the future. New campaigns with Twitter as well as integrations with Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, Netflix and Microsoft will be launched in efforts to further entrench the brand in the minds of sports fans at all points of media consumption. Ed Erhardt, the company’s President of Customer Marketing and Sales, predicted that sports will be the most bought segment at this year’s upfront.
As large networks continue to fight for this very engaged consumer, ESPN embarks on initiatives to harness its enormous reach so that advertisers can gain access to their audience on all screens. “We have massive scale, but that doesn’t mean we don’t target a specific consumer,” said Eric Johnson, ESPN’s Vice President of Multimedia Sales. In perhaps the most interesting iteration of their capabilities at the upfront, ESPN presented a case study involving their work with Gatorade. Partnering across multiple screens with the network, Gatorade aimed at embracing the female athlete and mother. Their main endeavor was support of “Nine for IX,” a short, nine documentary series ESPN created about women in sports in conjunction with the 40-year anniversary of Title IX.
In working with its clients, ESPN capitalizes on capabilities to target niche areas of its audience. Gatorade is able to focus its message out to the rising number of active women who are using its product on a consistent basis and make them feel important, set in the perfect brand/content fit. Media capabilities like these will allow brands to target groups of consumers differently, based on their behaviors and interests, rather than sending one broad and often vague broadcast advertising message. Engaging with your consumer on a micro-level becomes vitally important as competitive brands come into the market landscape. Just ask ESPN, they know a thing or two about that.
Even though technology is constantly enhancing the sports viewing experience, the casual dining industry may soon start to disagree.
With the increasing amount of live sports content available online, sports fans are altering their viewing habits, opting to watch games online, wherever they’re most comfortable. NBC learned this with the 2012 Super Bowl, when 2.1 million viewers logged onto NBCSports.com and NFL.com for the first time ever Super Bowl broadcast online – which became the largest audience ever for a single sporting event online.
Other networks and sports properties are starting to take advantage of these digitally focused fans by offering an interactive viewing experience online as well. Through enhanced viewing experiences and other unique digital add-ons, they are trying to offer a product that goes beyond the traditional TV broadcast.
As consumers evaluate their sports viewing preferences, CDR brands and sports bars must find a way to enter the thought process. Giving sports fans a reason to come in that resonates with them is the key to gaining new customers – and new advocates.
Everyone can watch a game at home now. Giving fans something they can’t get at home – now that’s the key.